Music is Art because it’s Political

A Reflection from the Roger Waters Concert Tour.

About four months ago, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters kicked off his North American tour entitled “Us + Them”. Although he performed many of old Pink Floyd songs, the tour was pretty much related to “Is This the Life We Really Want?”, his first solo album in twenty five years. As you might have guessed from the title, the nature of the tour was 100% political; it condemned the travesty of Donald Trump and his Presidency.

In an interview with Michael Smerconish on CNN, Waters explained his reason behind his politically-motivated tour,”In my view, you have to make your choice as to whether you do the right thing or the thing that makes you the most money.” When asked about people who are looking for escapism rather than politics at a rock concert, Waters simply said,” Go see Katy Perry, you know?”

Us + Them — Charade via Youtube:

What makes us flabbergasted is Roger Waters’ persistence in remaining political throughout his career amid the long standing massive commercialism. The fact that he is the “child” of counter culture movement in the 60s does not reduce such achievement since the majority of musicians from this generation has “left the building”. Being political has been the oxygen of all arts; it’s what gives arts the breath to be alive, kicking, and evolving to new forms.

Context and Art Forms

Rock (and just about any other genre within the popular music “industry”) has been dead for over 40 years; it has lost its purpose since the mid 1970s when most, if not all, of the artists bowed to commercialism, and no longer lived the context.

Making music hasn’t been about signifying the mind and conscience anymore; it’s been about making money and being famous. The irony behind this view and practice is the fact that every musical genre that has been commercialized and mobilized by “the industry” was born out of cultural and sociopolitical context, even in the case of Hip Hop, the today’s most popular genre. Fortune and super-stardom in music business evidently have swallowed the true roles and functions of music in societies.

Different time or period undergoes different context, and this is the very reason why music (and other art forms) keeps evolving and finding its new form. Almost two decades has passed in this 21st century, and world issues like global warming, racism, terrorism, anti immigrant & refugee, white supremacy, war, nationalism, extremism, and economic domination & injustice have perturbed humanity. In the meantime, the world still seems to have no common view in how to confront these dehumanizing matters, let alone the answer.

Arts that used to lead the way in addressing injustice and immorality seem to be too busy in making “sell-able and/or sensational goods”. Some people in the art scene argue that today is the period of individuality; others even say that art form is no longer relevant, any individual is entitled to create his/her own form. Well, an art form is a manifestation of a collective or common conceptual thought that grapples with growing and/or disturbing issues within the existing context; thus the societal concord in thought, message and act are the key elements that shape the forms in art.

In the case of Rock music, the birth of it is the proof of what we just discussed. The name Rock was meant to rock the mainstream mores and culture. The later sub-genres like Progressive, Punk, New Wave (in the US), and Grunge are simply affirmations of such proof. In late 60s, Progressive rock was born to disapprove commercialization (including the music modeling imposed by major labels) that swept the earlier generation; such disapproval was symbolized by presenting a sophisticated musical form with no concern whatsoever over whether the audience would like it. In the late 70s, Punk emerged while Progressive died out. Punk movement actually addressed the same issue, but came up with the opposite musical structure that progressive rock embraced; instead, they chose simple chords and disregarded technical virtuosity. Around the same time, New Wave in the US was more concerned about the press media that controlled information and shaped opinions. Still in the US, New Wave was also a self-critique to White people by ridiculing themselves with silly costumes and stage acts.

Gentle Giant, one of prominent Progressive Rock Bands – Another Show (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)

Talking Heads, one of the pioneers of New Wave from NYC – Lifetime Piling Up (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)

In mid 70s, Breaking (then developed into today’s Hip Hop) was also in the making. The gangs in South Bronx, New York City, had enough with the wars among themselves, and begun to focus on “war” against violence, and socioeconomic injustice. The movement transformed the gang war into art form, and “battle” was the chosen form. Breaking is a symbol of physical fight between “enemies”; the movement vocabularies are inspired by Kung Fu that was popularized by Bruce Lee at the time. Rap, on the other side, is a verbal battle in which two opposing sides throwing “lethal wordings” to each other until one side “surrenders”.

Grunge, in the late 80s, was voicing out the “young nobodies” in middle class America who were mostly unemployed due to the country’s economic downfall. The musical form was a result of a marriage between Hard Rock and Punk of the 70s that felt best in symbolizing the condition at the time. Being unemployed (and not because you’re lazy) is a miserable feeling. Grunge itself literally means filth or dirt, and that was how the young generation at the time felt about themselves; they felt as the dirt of society.

Such misery is well represented in the darkness of the music. The dreadful lyrics symbolize anxiety, the vocal is pretty much about torment, and the distorted guitar sound represents their being unfit in society.

“Canned” Music

The above brief descriptions show how a movement shapes the form of its art. Individuality always has a place, not in the shape of individual art form, but in signature. In High Renaissance art, we can easily differentiate the works of Da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Titian, and Rafael. In Baroque music, it’s easy to notice the differences among Vivaldi, Couperin, Bach, and Scarlatti. In Impressionism, the differences among Matisse, Cézanne, and Monet are quite obvious. In Rock music, it’s no way that we can’t tell the differences of guitar playing among Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page.

The non-existence of new common form of art today perhaps should be seen as the incapability of our societies to unite against inhumanity. The aforementioned individual form of art is not born out of collective concern or movement, and most works cannot be considered as new form(s) of art either. In music, for instance, most new works are mere replications of the old forms. There has been no new sub-genre in Jazz since Jazz Fusion, no new sub-genre in Rock since Grunge, no new sub-genre in Blues since Pop Blues, and no new sub-genre in Classical since the 20th Century music.

What we’ve been listening so far is actually a preserved music. If music is food, then we’re actually listening to “canned food” music; changes only takes place in packaging and prices, not in contents. Canned food is a preserved food, thus an all season edible; it remains the same no matter what the situation is. A can of Campbell soup is always a Campbell soup, in breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even in years time, a Campbell soup we had when we were kids will be the same soup we’re having at the time we are grandparents.

Preservation, Cultivation, and Evolution

Preservation has its own function; it’s the archive of the past that no longer lives. It’s important because we need to learn from our history. Never forget that our today is the result of our yesterday. In Classical music, preservation is called conservation, and that is the reason why the school for it is named Conservatory. Cultivation is the act of keeping our heritage living and functioning in real life. In the West, for example, criticism is a tradition that has been kept alive and well in their societies for hundreds of years. Evolution is the consequence of cultivation, and also a mechanism that eventually provides new solution(s) to the problems faced. There are past arts that we should preserve, there is cultural heritage that we should nurture, and there are new answers that we need to find to address present and future challenges.

 

During Vietnam War, Music Spoke to Both Sides of a Divided Nation

Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff, University of South Carolina

Music is central to Ken Burns’s new Vietnam War documentary, with an original score accompanied by samples of the era’s most popular musicians, from the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan. According to USA Today, the people interviewed for the film were even asked to provide their 10 favorite songs from the war years.

While it’s natural that a historical film would include period-specific songs, music played an outsized role in the Vietnam War era. Whereas during past wars, musicians wrote songs to unite Americans, Vietnam-era music spoke to the growing numbers of disillusioned citizens, and brought attention to the cultural fissures that were beginning to emerge.

A unified sound

World War II influenced an entire generation – many say the “greatest” – but few of those who came of age in the 1940s would probably call music a core component of their collective identity.

Music did play an important role in the war, but only as a way to unite Americans; like the films, radio reports and newspapers accounts of the era, World War II music resounded with patriotism.

Glenn Miller and his lively swing orchestra played hits such as “Tuxedo Junctionfor U.S. troops, while bandleaders such as Benny Goodman and U.S.O. entertainers such as Bob Hope reinforced the government’s promotion of unwavering patriotism to willing and eager listeners.

Young people embraced swing music for what historians David Stowe and Lewis Erenberg describe as the genre’s democratic ethos – the way Americans of different races and ethnicities enjoyed a new kind of sound with an upbeat tempo and new dance moves such as the Lindy Hop.

A huge crowd fills New York’s West 52nd Street for a swing party to raise war bonds in July 1942. AP Photo

 

As I argue in my book “Black Culture and the New Deal,” the government also employed African-American musicians such as Duke Ellington and Lena Horne to boost the morale of black citizens and project democratic values on the home front and for troops. Many African-Americans hoped a battle against fascism could lead to the end of discrimination in the U.S.

Songs of resistance

But Vietnam was different. Unlike the 1940s – when Americans thought the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and Nazi aggression in Europe justified the sacrifices of war – young people in the 1960s were deeply suspicious of the government’s decision to go into Southeast Asia. As the military’s commitment grew and the body counts piled up, many couldn’t understand what they were fighting for.

Songs were able to express these feelings of anger and confusion with lyrics that could be abstract – like Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” – or explicit, such as Phil Ochs’s “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.”

Music also filled a void in the country’s media landscape. Hollywood didn’t release films that probed the complex nature of the Vietnam War until years after the fall of Saigon. While television news broadcasting became more critical after the Tet Offensive, the big networks were hesitant to promote entertainers who were vocally opposed to the war. Popular programs would censor artists who planned to perform protest music; for example, in 1967, folk singer Pete Seeger appeared on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” only to discover that his song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” would be later be cut due to its anti-war message.

Because Vietnam-era musicians seemed to be the only people talking about America’s failure to live up to its democratic principles, many young people viewed them as “their own.”

Protest music took several forms. There was The Beatles’ more tepid “Revolution” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s everyman anthem “Fortunate Son.” Groups like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane excoriated the hypocrisy of American values, shunned commercialism and supported anti-imperial movements across the globe. People chanted lyrics while marching, listened during gatherings like the “Be-In” in San Fransisco’s Golden Gate Park or simply absorbed the meaning and messages of these songs on their own.

Forgotten voices

Much of the power of Vietnam War-era music came from its connection to the civil rights movement. Young men and women in the black freedom struggle had, since the 1950s, broadened their call for freedom to encompass oppressed people around the world. Artists like Nina Simone, Dylan and Seeger had been chronicling the tragedies of southern violence in their music, so pointing out the wrongs of Vietnam came naturally.

But interestingly, Google searches for “Vietnam Era Music” yield only protest music. This disregards the many who found the protesters abhorrent, who undoubtedly listened to apolitical songs or songs that backed the military.

The Americans that President Richard Nixon dubbed “the silent majority” – those angered by protesters – constituted a huge swath of the country. They had catapulted Nixon to the presidency and fueled a resurgent conservative political movement. The deep-seated resentment felt by so many Americans – against those on college campuses, those who defied military orders, those who questioned American patriotism – cannot be ignored, and they, too, turned to music that provided solace. Merle Haggard said he wrote his 1969 hit song “Okie From Muskogee” to support U.S. soldiers who “were giving up their freedom and lives to make sure others could stay free.”

“What the hell did these kids have to complain about?” he wondered.

To many, students on college campuses knew nothing about the true meaning of sacrifice. The Spokesmen’s pro-Vietnam ballad “Dawn of Correction” insisted on the “need to keep free people from red domination,” while “The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley,” performed by C Company and Terry Nelson, topped Billboard charts. (The song defended Lt. William Calley who, in 1971, was convicted of slaughtering civilians in the Vietnamese village of Mai Lai.)

The popularity of these songs paints another portrait of the war; politically, the music was much more multifaceted than is often remembered.

The ConversationHopes for the era weren’t as simple as the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” which promised “there’s a better life for me and you.” Instead, understanding the music of the Vietnam War era requires indulging a variety of perspectives. The overseas conflict cannot be divorced from the culture war back home – a battle over who gets to define the nation’s identity.

Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff, Associate Professor of History, University of South Carolina

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Obituary – Gauri Lankesh

Recently, on September 6, 2017, we read an obituary of Gauri Lankesh (55 year old), a female Indian journalist senior, writer and activist (secularist-nationalist). Lankesh was assassinated inside her residence in Bengaluru city (India). Police found three bullet wounds on her body and yet the murderers remain unknown. Nevertheless, it is presumed that Gauri Lankesh’s murder was due to the criticism that she bravely countered political interest of “far-right wing” Hindu nationalists. Before the death of Gauri Lankesh, there were a few leftish academics and journalists who have also been murdered. However, people who mourns the loss of her existence held protest rally in some regions in India. India seems to be having a restless point to maintain democracy in its sovereignty. And yet, fascist practices still exist in some communities.

Nowadays we keep seeing  the politics of religion practiced in many parts of the world; the killings of moslems by Ma Ba Tha (a paranoid Buddhist movement in Myanmar) and Front Pembela Islam or FPI (agitating Islamist group) that despises the Christian Governor of Jakarta are examples of such practice.

Regarding the brave act initiated by Gauri Lankesh, she will be remembered by women, the press, and the world. Her criticism is a prominent message to voice out the freedom of press. Without any criticism on this world, everything would be very subjective. LttW stands by Sacred Bridge Foundation’s principal, whereas a single perception is dangerous for humankind.

Obituary, One of The Pioneers of Sound Sampling in Rock Music, Holger Czukay

[Jakarta, LTTW] September 5, 2017, Co-founder and bassist of German Rock band Can, Holger Czukay passed away at the age of 79 and left us an abundance of legacies. He died eight months after the death of Jaki Liebeziet, one of the founding members and drummer of Can.

Holger Czukay was one of the great musicians in pop music culture; a musician who had explored the characteristics of sound, especially in timbre. He had taken New Music course under 20th century classical composer Karlheinz Stockhausen at Darmstadt; then worked briefly as a music teacher. His first exposure towards Rock music started when a student played him The Beatles’ 1967 song “I Am the Walrus”, which led his interest to The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stone, and Frank Zappa, among others.

Can – Vitamin C (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)

According to critic Jason Ankeny, whom I agree with, Holger Czukay successfully bridged the gap between pop and the Avant-Garde, pioneering the use of sampling and exploring the significance of world music on Western Culture”. He helped Can blend a diverse range of music genres such as Jazz, Avant-Garde, Minimalist, Electronic, Psychedelic, and Funk – and would later influence a generation of artists of New Wave, Techno, Trance, and many more. He also experimented with shortwave radios, recorded various sounds and snippets, and incorporated them into his compositions, a term he called “Radio Painting”. In 2015, Czukay released his most recent solo album, “Eleven Years Innerspace”.

As a music enthusiast, the death of a figure like Czukay becomes a great loss in pop music scene, especially considering there’s little (or no) breakthroughs in today’s pop music. Less and less pop musicians have enough references and knowledge of classical music (one of the fundamentals in pop music) and dare to explore new possibilities. With this in mind, it’s important for musicians to understand the basic of music, expand horizon of knowledge, and make mistakes!

Rest in Peace, Holger Czukay (and Jaki Liebeziet). Thank you for what you’ve inherited to us. Hopefully, your passion for music will continue to inspire the following generations.

Holger Czukay – Ode To Perfume / London Live 2009 (Music provided by Vox de Cultura)

George Romero’s zombies will make Americans reflect on racial violence long after his death

Erin C. Cassese, West Virginia University

“What’s your zombie apocalypse survival plan?”

The question invites the liveliest discussions of the semester. I teach a course on social movements in fiction and film at West Virginia University, where I also conduct research on race and gender politics in the United States.

George Romero’s first film, “Night of the Living Dead,” is on the syllabus. The film was groundbreaking in its use of horror as political critique. Half a century later, Romero’s films are still in conversation with racial politics in the United States, and Romero’s recent death calls for reflection on his legacy as a filmmaker.

Disquieted times

Newark, N.J. Rioting erupted in the predominantly black area of Newark’s central ward in July 1967. AP Photo

 

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, an English professor and monster theorist at George Washington University, notes that “Like all monsters, zombies are metaphors for that which disquiets their generative times.”

Romero shot “Night of the Living Dead” in 1967, when Americans’ attention was focused on powerful televised images of race riots in cities like Newark and Detroit, and on the Vietnam War, the likes of which were new to broadcast news. Romero reimagined scores of bleeding faces, twisted in rage or vacant from trauma, as the zombie hoard. He filtered public anger and anxieties through the hoard, reflecting what many viewed as liberals’ rage and disappointment over a lack of real social change and others saw as conservatives’ fear over disruptions in race relations and traditional family structures. This is the utility of the zombie as a political metaphor – it’s flexible; there is room enough for all our fears.

In “Night of the Living Dead,” an unlikely cross-section of people are cornered in a farmhouse by a zombie hoard. They struggle with each other and against the zombies to survive the night. At the end of the film, black protagonist Ben Huss is the sole survivor. He emerges from the basement at daybreak, only to be mistaken for a zombie and shot by an all-white militia. The militiamen congratulate each other and remark that Huss is “another one for the fire.” They never realize their terrible error. Perhaps they are inclined to see Huss as a threat to begin with, because he is black.

At the start of Romero’s next film, “Dawn of the Dead,” in which another unlikely bunch faces off against zombies in a shopping mall, police surround a public housing building. One officer remarks on the unfairness of putting blacks and Hispanics in these “big-ass fancy hotels” and proceeds to shoot residents indiscriminately, not distinguishing between the living and the undead.

The officers are shooting to restore the “natural order” in which the dead stay dead. But their actions also restore the prevailing social order and the institutions that create and reinforce racial inequality.

Zombie revival

In my class, I connect these scenes of dehumanization to contemporary racial politics, using them as a springboard for conversations about racially motivated police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement. These discussions focus on the zombie as a dehumanized creature.

In returning from the dead, zombies lose their human essence – their agency, critical reasoning capacities, empathy and language. As Cohen writes, “Zombies are a collective, a swarm. They do not own individualizing stories. They do not have personalities. They eat. They kill. They shamble. They suffer and they cause suffering. They are dirty, stinking, and poorly dressed. They are indifferent to their own decay.” Zombies retain a human form, but lose their individuality and are dehumanized in their reanimation.

Film director George A. Romero in Mexico City in 2011. AP Photo/Marco Ugarte

 

Minority victims of police shootings are often portrayed in the media as dangerous, animalistic and even monstrous – meaning they too are stripped of their basic humanity. Social psychologists argue that perceptions of humanity are a critical part of social cognition – the way we process or think about other people and social settings. When we see people or groups as less than human, predictable consequences arise. Romero’s films tune us in to our own potential for dehumanization.

Zombie psychology

Dehumanization relaxes our moral restrictions on doing harm to others and ultimately facilitates violence against them. When people see members of a group as an undifferentiated “hoard,” they’re susceptible to the same error as the militiamen in “Night of the Living Dead.” When they couple dehumanization with hatred, resentment or fear, they become like the resentful police officer in “Dawn of the Dead.” Dehumanization of black Americans underpins the violence perpetrated against them in Romero’s films and in America today.

Dehumanization isn’t confined to police violence. New research shows that dehumanization of Muslims and Hispanics underlies support for restrictive immigration policies and a border wall. It also undercuts support for aid to refugees.

In my own research, I show that political candidates are often dehumanized in political discourse and campaign imagery. This work suggests that monsters plague our elections and governance processes more broadly.

The ConversationRomero will be best remembered for giving the zombie a place in mainstream American culture, but he also gave us a warning about human psychology and critical insights into racial politics in the U.S. For this reason, his work will continue to have a revered place on my syllabus.

Erin C. Cassese, Associate Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.